House Republicans who decry 'censorship' propose ban on flag-burning

300

After complaining about the censorship of ideas, six House Republicans want to amend the Constitution to do just that.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) opposes campaign finance reform, claiming it "infringes on free speech rights." But on Monday, he proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow banning a form of political speech.

The amendment states, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States," and it could effectively remove the First Amendment's protection for people who desecrate the U.S. flag as a form of political protest by authorizing Congress to make that a crime.

Womack announced the amendment to coincide with Flag Day. Montana Republican Steve Daines introduced a similar proposal in the Senate the same day.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that the federal Flag Protection Act, which made it a crime to destroy an American flag, was a violation of the First Amendment, lawmakers have made several unsuccessful attempts to amend the Constitution to circumvent that ruling. Womack filed the same proposal in 2019, but it never received a floor vote.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, such an amendment is not only a dangerous restriction on free speech, but also "a solution in search of a problem." It noted a study by political scientist Robert Justin Goldstein who found that only about 45 flag burnings were reported between the year 1777 and 1989.

Womack has sharply criticized anything that he deemed an infringement of conservatives' right to speak. In January, he complained that the Democratic majority's House rules package "seeks to limit historical floor procedures and censor opposing ideas." In March, he opposed a labor rights bill, claiming it "attacks the free-speech rights of employers."

Still, he said in a Monday press release:

Recognized from near and afar, our flag is the embodiment of freedom and liberty. With hands over our hearts, we salute our enduring banner and the promise it upholds. It has guided troops into battle, steadfastly flown during our brightest and darkest moments, and is placed over the caskets of our heroes who have given all. It means too much to not have the ability to protect it.

His proposal has already been co-sponsored by five colleagues.

They have also tried to present themselves as defenders of free speech and critics of censorship:

Ted Budd

Budd (R-NC) introduced a bill last October to remove legal protections from tech companies that he deemed as censoring the right.

"Big Tech bias has gone too far in suffocating the voices of conservatives across our country. If these companies want to continue to receive legal protection, they should be forced to play by a fair set of rules in good faith," he argued.

He reintroduced the same bill in January.

Rick Crawford

"Free speech was intended to prevent a government from being able to alter the marketplace of ideas in a free society," Crawford (R-AR) tweeted last April, defending critics of coronavirus safety measures. "When an entity can put it's finger [sic] on the scales of free speech, we must vigilantly defend that freedom."

In October, he charged that Twitter was engaging in "censorship at best and election inference at worst," when it slapped a disclaimer on a link to an unproven allegation against Hunter Biden.

Andy Harris

Harris (R-MD) lauded the Supreme Court for its "protection of free speech" for anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers." He had helped organize an amicus brief arguing a California law regulating them violated the First Amendment.

Doug Lamborn

Lamborn (R-CO) complained in February that tech companies were undermining free speech by enforcing their terms of service.

"The United States was founded upon the free exchange of ideas and American’s God-given rights to freedom of speech," he wrote. "Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon have been allowed to suppress First Amendment rights of conservatives with little or no consequences. These big tech companies are setting a dangerous precedent by silencing individuals and organizations simply for holding viewpoints seen as disagreeable."

Like Womack, he opposes the For the People Act, claiming its campaign finance reform provisions would "destroy our First Amendment rights."

In 2018, he objected to California's regulations governing anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers," vowing, "I hope and pray that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of free speech. I will continue to advocate for our basic American freedoms including the right to life and freedom of speech."

Dan Newhouse

Newhouse (R-WA) said in 2016 that he voted for the Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act to "to protect First Amendment rights regardless of anyone’s political beliefs."

In 2017, he defended the free speech of white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying, "This is a time where it really tests how much you believe in our constitutional rights."

In February, Newhouse urged Facebook users to "like" his post calling out tech companies for allegedly "censoring Conservatives."

Even some Republicans have opposed the idea of amending the Constitution to ban flag desecration.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been a vocal opponent of such an amendment.

"No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment. Our Constitution, and our country, is stronger than that," he wrote in 2006. "Ultimately, people like that pose little harm to our country. But tinkering with our First Amendment might."

Publish with permission of The American Independent Foundation.